Andrew Traucki is my favourite Australian horror director, which pretty much makes him my favourite Australian director. When Traucki started a crowd funding campaign to do some extra sound design work on his latest film, The Jungle, I immediately contributed. This earned me a mention in the film's credits, and thanks to Monsterfest I got to see my name on the big screen at the film's national premiere. Take that, George Clooney!
|Director: Andrew Traucki
Starring:: Rupert Reid, Agoes Widjaya Soedjarwo, Igusti Budianthika
Screnplay: Andrew Traucki
The Jungle concerns two brothers who travel to a jungle in Indonesia to try and prove that there are still some endangered leopards there. They're warned about the area by some locals, and even their local tracker seems somewhat hesitant to enter it, but that naturally doesn't stop them from heading out on their search. When they stumble across some bad juju the tracker really begins to dig his heels in, but with some hot leopard evidence to follow the team forges deeper into the jungle. Trouble is, there's something big lurking in them there trees, and it's not a gentle giant.
For his latest feature Traucki has decided to go the found footage route. This, combined with the bad juju artefacts, makes comparisons to The Blair Witch Project spring to mind straight away. I much preferred The Jungle, but the influence of BWP is impossible to miss. By utilising the found footage style, Traucki is able to use quicker edits to get the brothers to Indonesia fast, so I thought I was in for a long, intense ride. Instead, The Jungle settles in and then just builds and builds. It's absolutely a slow burn, but because the initial pacing is brisk, I wasn't expecting that. The most interesting thing about the found footage style is the way Traucki uses his single camera presentation to unsettle the viewer. Danger in The Jungle usually isn't visible, but because the viewer is locked into just one camera angle it means trouble will have to come from somewhere in the frame. There's no cutting away, which makes it feel like the viewer can't look away, and because I knew something was going to appear I became obsessed with trying to work out where it would come from. I thought it was a very effective use of the format; my partner thought it was downright traumatic.
As the film progressed I got more and more wrapped up in the "where's it going to come from" element, and it wasn't until the movie was almost over that I realised how involved I had become. I'd gone from being somewhat confused as to why it was taking so long to get the story moving to being totally wound up in the proceedings. This slow burner does take a while to get going, so I wasn't entirely convinced about the film at the halfway mark, but it ends really strongly.
The Jungle has a well-crafted structure, but it also has some flaws. Some are budgetary, like that the cast didn't always look like they were battling through Indonesian jungle, but the biggest problem is repetition. Usually this concerns lines of the "What is that?" or "Did you hear that?" variety, which are said so frequently I started wondering if they were meant to be character catchphrases. While this became an unintentional bit of humour, the film's overall impact would've been strengthened without this distraction via repetition.
Mostly The Jungle is a success, though, with some of the best acting yet in a Traucki movie. Traucki himself stars as one of the brothers, but he's not on screen very much because he plays the cameraman. Traucki surprised me by giving a pretty good performance, and he scores the movie's funniest moment, too. Of particular note is Igusti Budianthika starring as the Indonesian tracker. He gives a credible, angsty performance as a man caught between superstition and logic, trapped in a deadly situation by his own sense of commitment to his homeland.
I think The Jungle will improve with repeat viewings, but the lasting impression I had after watching it was that the film does exactly what it sets out to do, and it does it well.
Now, Andrew, we need to talk. I'm not sure about this whole Traucki's Trilogy of Terror thing. Calling it a trilogy means there are only three, and I'm still waiting for your film about a killer polar bear. It could be called The Blizzard or something, and the bear could blend in with the snow and ice so the people that get eaten can't tell where it is. Wouldn't it be better to have a Quadrilogy of Terror? Third time might be a charm, but fourth time could have a bear doing harm.